Too Busy To Change Career? Not With These Techniques...

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Image: Aron Visuals

Lack of time is not an excuse to stay in the wrong career. Natasha shares her favourite (lesser known) approaches for how you can make time work for you – and, through doing so, make a speedier shift.

There's work. There are bills. There are kids. There are friends.

You have to go to the supermarket, and then the tyres on the car need a top-up. Your partner's been feeling neglected, so you need to spend quality time with them. You work late to finish a project, spend at least three evenings stuck in traffic, and before you know it, six weeks have gone by since you did anything about your career change.

And you're still miserable. And you're still busy. And that's just the way it is.

Think you're too busy to make your shift a priority? When we spend at least 70% of our waking lives at work, being unhappy in our careers is a big deal. It's time to start treating it like one.

Here are some of our favourite techniques for getting the most out of time:

1. Get your head straight about time

People prioritise tasks (and time) according to a self-assigned order of importance (and oh, how we love to pretend we didn't do it ourselves).

"I'm so busy! I have so many responsibilities! I never have time to do the things I want to do! Look how busy I am!", we say – and with every repetition, rather than seeming important and useful, we reinforce a victim mentality: "I'm not in control of my own life – I don't get to choose what I do."


Career change can be a long and arduous process, and as a result we often let it slip to the back of our minds. It becomes part of the scenery rather than the action: a mountainous, background image that can always be ignored while we busy ourselves with the more immediate demands on our attention.

Unless you choose to bring your career change to the foreground of each day, and treat it as a project of equal or greater importance to buying food, going to the gym, and even your day job, it's not going to happen.

Let me say that again: as long as you're committed to the idea that you just don't have time, nothing is going to happen.

In 90% of cases, "I don't have time for that" is not a statement about quantity.

It's a statement about priority.

If you genuinely don't have time for your shift inside the way your life looks right now, you're going to need to change something about the way your life looks right now.

Equally, if you try out some of the following techniques, you might discover you actually have more time to play with than you think.

2. De-Smush your shift

Smush: Noun. Pronunciation: /smʊʃ/. Questions and statements of a vague, ethereal, and paralysing nature. Widely found in the career-change field, e.g.: "The first thing I have to do is decide what I want to do every day for the rest of my life".

Career change is a field where there's a high smush-factor: there's lots of scope for big, scary questions that make calling the gas company look like a blast. They're seriously challenging, and when we feel confronted by a challenging question, it's no wonder we choose to spend time on something else instead.

These big, scary ideas are also totally useless if you want to take action right now. They're great to have in the back of your mind, guiding your actions, but as actions themselves?

Hell no.

To de-smush your career change, it's time to break those big questions down into practical tasks – and then commit to doing one task per week / per day.

For example, once 'Figure out what career is right for me' is de-smushed, it might look like this:

  1. On Thursday, read one chapter of my book on identifying your strengths
  2. By Friday, contact three people who work in jobs I think I might enjoy, and ask if we can set up a call / go for coffee
  3. In the next three minutes, write down as many things I enjoy doing as I can think of, and see what shows up
  4. In the next week, try a practical online workshop in an area related to my field of interest

De-smushed, your goal of figuring out what career you'd enjoy is much more achievable – and it doesn't look like such a massive task anymore, right? You're probably NOT too busy to read one chapter of one book. And if you're too busy to scribble down ideas for three minutes, you need to get yourself to a doctor. Get on it.

3. Squeeze the juice out of Dual-Purpose Time

Dual-Purpose Time is the term I use to refer to periods of the day when we zone out, but could be using our imaginations to great effect. 

For many people, their most obvious Dual-Purpose Time is the drive to / from work, but others say they find it when doing the washing-up or in the bath. These are periods of time when there's nothing to do but what you're doing, and you can allow your mind to wander (within reason, drivers!). Capture your thought processes with a tape recorder or use the function on your phone; don't censor, don't think too much, simply start talking.

Planning to run a workshop as part of your new business? Try delivering the workshop out loud and off the top of your head while you walk home from the park. (Top tip: wearing a set of headphones lets people assume you're on the phone, minimising the chances of looking like you're talking to yourself.)

Need to come up with some marketing techniques? Brainstorm ideas in the bath. (Top tip: you can buy wash-off bath crayons for kids which are GREAT for drawing impromptu flow charts on the tiles.)

4. Pinpoint your Clarity Spots

Want to know a secret?

I have all my best ideas in the shower – no word of a lie.

My brain never works better than when I'm under the spray. The moment I realised that this was my Clarity Spot (the place and time when I think most clearly, most imaginatively and most ambitiously), I started to pay extra attention to what was happening and have reaped the benefits ever since.

Clarity Spots tend to be places and times when you (consciously or unconsciously) switch off. The conscious brain takes a rest from its constant chatter, and your subconscious bubbles up to the surface, bringing with it all the genius which is usually drowned out. (For more on why, and what actually happens inside your brain in moments like these, check out point 9 in this piece on generating ideas)

Identify your Clarity Spot and really pay attention to what ideas show up in your head next time you're there.

You don't have to do anything about those ideas, just scribble down a note of them and come back to them later – perhaps as inspiration for a 5-Minute Work of Genius (more on these later).

5. Play with inspiration-driven productivity

On a high level, there are two primary types of productivity: obligation-driven and inspiration-driven. We all know obligation-driven: it involves things like To-Do lists, Scheduling, long periods of Staring Into Space, and usually a fairly hefty portion of Guilt.

Inspiration-driven productivity, on the other hand, has no schedule. It's exciting, it's a little mysterious, and it's fun to follow up on. It usually shows up as a great idea in an unexpected moment and – here's the kicker – we usually push it aside because our schedule says we should be doing something else.

If you focus on working on your career change when it wants to be worked on, rather than when you think you should do it, you'll find you get a lot more done. So what if you have to ask your babysitter to have the kids for an extra hour, or you miss one gym session? You're busy changing your life!

The other great thing about inspiration-driven productivity is that it often gets you further than obligation. We tend to think that the journey to success is logical: take Step 1, then Step 2, and then Step 3, and, like magic, you'll get yourself a new career. But it's slow, it's arduous, and it elicits a fairly mundane approach – which in turn creates mundane results.

If your To-Do list involves calling three potential clients, but you find yourself on the same street as their offices one afternoon, take yourself through the door and see what happens. Not only will the results be more interesting, but you will have taken some action – and the sooner you do that, the better.

6. Schedule your shift

Given what we've just said about inspiration-driven productivity, scheduling time for your career change might seem counter-intuitive.

But for some of you, waiting for inspiration to hit feels like saying you'll only work on your career change when the Tooth Fairy shows up.

A key practice we encourage our Career Change Launch Pad participants to develop is blocking out chunks of time to focus on their shifts, and protecting those chunks fiercely.

Just the same as if you were going to a doctor's appointment – your career change time is in your diary, and you show up for it until it's time to do something else.

There's something uniquely powerful about dedicating time and space to your career change. It honours the journey you're on, and prioritises it in a way that almost invites activity (especially when you've de-smushed your shift).

Maybe you don't know exactly what action to take in your career change hours. And normally that not-knowing keeps you not-doing.

But since you're there... you might as well do something, right?

And all those somethings... eventually they turn into Something.

7. Explore Parkinson's Law

Fact: Work expands to fill the time you assign to it.

You have a day off and you need to clean your apartment. It takes the entire day.

Your potential love interest says s/he's popping round in ten minutes, and suddenly the place is gleaming. Sound familiar?

This phenomenon is known as Parkinson's Law. Parkinson's point wasn't that you can do any task in a tiny amount of time, but that we usually overestimate the time a task is going to take... and then we find ways of filling that time (usually with stress, hair-pulling and angry outbursts).

Armed with this information, test yourself against the Law. Are you putting off that email to an inspiring contact because you think it's going to take three hours? Set a timer for one hour, pull on your Winner boots and see if you can beat the clock. Even if you only get a first draft done, it's a raging success.

8. Create a 5-minute Works Of Genius

Have you found your Clarity Spot and come up with a madcap, exciting, and ultimately multi-million-dollar-generating business idea? Have you thought of a way of getting your dream employer to fall hopelessly in love with you? Are you now terrified that you've been struck by a bolt of inspiration but won't ever have the time to make it happen?

Give it five minutes. Sit down with your great idea while the kettle boils, or during the ad-break on TV and work on it for five minutes. Take one five-minute action, brainstorm for five minutes, practise doing it for five minutes – and then go back to your day (or, if you suddenly find that you're on a roll, keep going for another five minutes).

Giving yourself a short period of time to work on something doesn't just use Parkinson's Law to your advantage, it also makes you more likely to do it.

Nobody can argue with five minutes, right?

But five minutes every day for a week will get you way further along in your change than trying to find a three-hour gap somewhere in your schedule.


9. Recruit your Supporting Army

Time for a bit of honesty.

Are you super-busy because you're all alone in the world and nobody else can do the things you have to do? Or are you super-busy because you secretly believe that's true? Or perhaps because you think being Very Busy All The Time makes you noble and respectable, somehow? Unless it's the first answer, it's time to start using the people around you – your supporting army.

Often, the people who feel the busiest are operating in a state of panic. They don't have more on their plates than anyone else, but they feel as though they have to do it all alone, and as soon as possible. When you take a look at your busy life, how much of it is really urgent, and how much of it is 100% your responsibility?

If you really do have a hectic lifestyle, take a look to see where you can delegate some tasks, and free up time to dedicate to your career change (and to taking care of yourself!). Could you liftshare with another parent (or ten) to ease the pressure of the school run and take some career-change time two afternoons a week? Start ordering your weekly shop online? Ask a friend to support your shift by cooking you dinner one night, so you can get a solid hour in after work?

The people around us are usually much more willing to step up to the plate than we expect – and if you explain why you're making the request, they'll secretly be thrilled that they can help you achieve something so important.

Which of these techniques could you use to re-energise your career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.